The great rock and roll swindle

Yesterday the BBC posted a rather misleading article http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20802043

It seems sensible enough, finally the government is going to allow the public to legally do something that everyone who has ever bought a blank cassette or an MP3 player has been doing since the 1970’s. For the over 40’s out there, how many of you have copied an album onto tape so you could listen to it in the car, or on the old sony walkman? If you’re under the age of 40 (or over and a geek like myself) how many of you have converted your entire CD collection to mp3 so you can listen to it on your media player of choice? Congratulations, the government has finally decided that you are no longer criminals. So what’s so misleading about the BBC article then? It’s quite obvious when you read it.

According to the article musicians are in an uproar over the government’s plans. They see the second Ferrari being snatched away from them in stolen sales. Yes, apparently the ability to do what everyone is doing anyway will result in fewer sales. That British musicians will be disadvantaged in relation to EU musicians. Their solution? A tax on portable media, to be paid to musicians. In reality, what they are saying is we want the public to pay twice. We want the public to buy both the digital and the CD version (which no one does, at least no one I know). And if they won’t pay twice, we want the government to force them to pay twice by taxing all those blank discs that they’re buying to shift all their legally bought iTunes content onto CD for the car journey or as backup in case the PC decides to die. What they are saying is, we want to be paid, even when that person is not buying music.

There are a number of issues with this that I find alarming. Firstly, who is going to be responsible for collecting and distributing these non-sale royalty payments? The BPI? The MU? All this will do is create a new revenue stream for an industry that is notorious for withholding money from artists. This is not about rewarding creators and composers. This is no different to how musicians are paid for radio air time. For every pound generated in revenue the musician sees a fraction of that, after the collecting agency and their record label take their cream from the top. My second issue is with who is now paying for this license. At least with the radio licensing you know the radio station is playing music. That fee is generated by actual music played by the station and goes to the collecting agency for that artist. They won’t see much of it, but at least when they play Slade over Xmas you know Noddy Holder will be receiving a cheque sometime in the New Year.

With a tax on CDs it’s the IT industry that is now funding musicians. All those copies of Linux burned onto disc at home will be funding someone’s rehab costs. Money being paid to musicians for something that has nothing to do with music. It may surprise people to know that Britain is actually one of the few countries that doesn’t already do this. Primarily as Britain is one of the few countries that wasn’t fooled by the recording industry that illegal downloads were responsible for a music sales apocalypse. Yes, illegal downloads are still a problem, but they have never been as much of an issue to the recording industry than the global economy. With music continually priced at a premium sales will invariably drop when you don’t have the money to make purchases. The recording industry once equated half of all blank CD sales to illegal music copying. That’s correct, their argument for taxing blank CDs was that illegal downloading and burning was equivalent to the entire music market worldwide. That without illegal downloads, the music industry would somehow magically double in size overnight. This was despite their own research that showed that despite a slowdown in physical sales revenue at that time had remained at the same level.

Finally, it is the matter of who receives the money from a CD tax. The beneficiaries of my blank CD purchase will not be the musicians that I listen to. Why should my blank CD put money into the pockets of a record label or musician that I do not listen to? Will any of my CD tax be paid to Scandinavian rock bands? To German power metal bands? To the band that played the local nightclub last night? No, it will go into the pockets of the likes of Simon Cowell, Adele, Kanye West. To musicians I have never had any intention of listening to. Why should I pay to fund the lowest common denominator? Why should my money be given to a multi millionaire who has done nothing to persuade me to part with my money and invest in their music?

The industry needs to learn that the public is not there as a cash cow. It has no right to my money except where I say it can have it, by my choice of music purchases. I say who receives my money, who I believe has created music that I deem worthy of listening to. If the industry wishes to grow it must redefine itself and realise that while there is undoubtedly a market for the insipid trash that passes for pop music nowadays, with clone bands singing the same harmonies on every other reality talent show, in order to engage with the greater general public it must do more to encourage genuine talent. There is a wealth of musical talent out there looking for a market that the industry is ignoring. And the more you ignore this talent, the more the public will ignore the industry.

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